By Craig Haze
The Atlas Moth released their debut full-length, A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, in 2009. It was an enjoyable—if not wholly original—album, stacked with rough and ready sludgy stoner jams. I can’t say it resonated with me to any great extent, but the band stuck in my mind as one to watch.
Pre-release chatter for The Atlas Moth’s new album suggested they were leaning harder on psychedelic themes. Being a huge fan of Krautrock, prog and psych bands in general, let alone ones that mix elements of those genres with some dirty metal and post (whatever) rumblings—I was eager to hear if they had made any substantial changes to their style.
An Ache For the Distance is the band’s first album for their new label, Profound Lore—a far more sensible home than their previous label, Candlelight USA. Like many bands from Profound Lore’s roster, The Atlas Moth have set about shattering expectations and fucking with pre-conceived notions about where exactly they sit in relation to any specific genre.
From the moment the ringing guitars kick in on the first track, “Coffin Varnish”, all the way through to the final noisescape of “Horse Thieves”, the band delights in kaleidoscopic twists and mind-expanding turns, plucking ideas and harnessing influences from across the musical spectrum. “Gemini”, with its fragile piano intro, features an archaic Eastern thread mixed in with plenty of undulating and jangling guitars. “Courage”—which is pure gothic post-punk—has its corpulent bass undercut by the subtle use of faintly audible screams. And “Holes in the Desert” begins with a Mongolian-like throat chant before the trippy riffs and juxtaposing shrieking and clean vocals arrive. An Ache for the Distance is nothing if not riotously ambitious.
However, for all the album’s uninhibited deviations, it remains remarkably consistent, which comes down to two crucial factors. Firstly, The Atlas Moth are obviously comfortable incorporating new elements into their overall sound.
While their debut was defined by an amorphous blend of post-metal, sweeping doom and sludgy rock, the new album finds them splicing in classic metal riffs, a little gritty blues and a lot of delicate indie melodies.
There is also a substantial dose of that aforementioned heavy-psych, with the band amplifying the hallucinatory atmospherics. “An Ache for the Distance” is a great example of the lysergic inventiveness that results from coalescing all those newfound characteristics. The song’s icy doom-laden core is cut with a swaggering, melodic blues riff and layered with fantastic contrasting vocals. Pick any track and you’ll come to the same conclusion; every one of them oozes intoxicating promise.
While there’s a lot more added into the mix on An Ache for the Distance, nothing sounds forced or unnatural, which brings us to the second crucial factor regarding the album’s success—the production. The new album sounds less cluttered than the band’s debut. Although that might seem a little contradictory considering there is so much more happening on the new album, the sound is richer and less swampy this time round. The clarity allows for a far greater appreciation of all the intricate dynamics that result from having a three-guitar line-up. And as the entire album reverberates with layers of differing sounds smashing up against one another, its overall lucidity ensures the sonic rewards aren’t smothered in a muddy mix.
The dual vocal work of Stavros Giannopolous and David Kush is a feature of the album you’ll find yourself coming back to again and again. The way they overlap and intertwine means the acidic screams sour the calmer moments and the harmonious, clean vocals soften the astringent tones. It adds a real chromatic depth to the album.
For an album packed full of labyrinthine psychedelic excursions and plenty of mind-bending swerves, there’s nothing soporific or inaccessible about An Ache for the Distance. The Atlas Moth have come up with something truly unique and utterly compelling on their sophomore full-length. With post-metal being such a congested realm, the fact that the band’s new album shows such an obvious development in songwriting terms is not only a welcome surprise, but also an extremely refreshing one. An Ache For the Distance is an exceptional release from an extraordinary band.